POCATELLO — A routine physical turned into a life-threatening situation for a Portneuf Medical Center volunteer shuttle driver after doctors determined she had suffered from uterine cancer for more than a decade.
Diagnosed in 2008, yet cancer-free during the five years following, Gloria Mayer plans to celebrate her victory over cancer during the upcoming annual Relay for Life. The event is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. July 11 at Century High School in Pocatello.
She cites the Luminary Walk that honors cancer survivors.
“It’s the most spiritual thing you’ll ever experience,” she said.
Mayer’s cancer experience started after she noticed a small amount of blood on her underwear during the physical. Long past menopause, Mayer mentioned this to physician’s assistant, Nicole Manning, who shortly after, ordered an ultrasound.
“I literally had one spot. You would have thought I yelled ‘fire.’ That ultrasound showed my uterus was enlarged,” she said.
Her physician, Dr. Carole Shelly, later ordered an endometrial biopsy for Mayer. That report came back with frightening news.
“With tears running down her face, she said, ‘I’m sorry. You have uterine cancer, and it’s stage three,’” Mayer recalled.
Such a condition usually means a patient has about a year left to live. Yet, instead of telling Mayer to get her affairs in order and to just give up, Shelly instead sent Mayer to the famed Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City.
The institute normally books patients 10 weeks out, but Shelly managed to get her in within a week’s time.
“I asked ‘if I get radiation and chemotherapy, then what? They said ‘Then you’ll be dead in a year,’” she recalled.
Doctors later told Mayer she most likely had had the disease for several years.
“We’re going to do everything we can. In all likelihood you’ve had uterine cancer for 11 years and didn’t know it.’ And that was the beginning,” said Mayer, who added she hadn’t suffered any symptoms that include painful urination and excessive vaginal bleeding.
Shortly after her diagnosis, doctors ordered a full hysterectomy for Mayer removing all the cancer from her body.
Yet, the surgery proved difficult as Mayer went into full kidney failure requiring her to spend significant time recovering at Huntsmen.
“They took everything. I don’t know what they did to my kidneys to jump start them afterwards. I still have a problem with my kidneys because of that surgery. Whenever I get seriously ill, my kidneys stop. It’s a repercussion of cancer,” she said.
Cancer proves a life-changing event, Mayer said.
“When you hear the words ‘I’m sorry. You have cancer,’ your life is never the same,” she said.
Whenever Mayer gets sick, she worries the cancer may be returning. Cancer runs in her family, and she’s had 22 relatives die from the disease. Mayer has also experienced melanoma off and on.
“I’ve had a lot of skin cancers since then, but I take it more seriously than I did. I don’t think I’ll ever lose the fear,” she said.
Eternally grateful for Dr. Shelly and her quick-thinking staff, Mayer loves thanking them for their help.
“Last year on my birthday, I took a birthday cake in saying ‘Thank you’ to my regular doctors. I wouldn’t be celebrating birthdays if it wasn’t for my doctors. They saved my life,” she said.
Five years cancer free, Mayer gets checkups with Dr. Shelly. Once a year she also returns to the Huntsman Institute for follow up care.
Mayer continues to volunteer as a hospital shuttle driver just as she has done for eight years. At one point, the hospital named her “Volunteer of the Year.”
“I absolutely love it. It’s the best job at the hospital. People ask my ‘why do you do it?’ I say ‘I do it because I can, and because I’m still alive,’” she said.